so, defeated Toledo City League rival, St. Francis, 24-17 on homecoming. The Panther win is their
third straight and improves their record to 4-1. St. Francis drops to 2-3.
Before a near capacity homecoming crowd estimated at over 7,500, the evening did not begin well for host Whitmer. In the first half the Panthers were outplayed by the visiting Knights but did manage to put together one successful drive, covering 77 yards, to take an early 7-0 lead.
The Knights, meanwhile, were dominating the action on the field but were not able to score until just before halftime. Although St. Francis managed to amass 168 yards in total offense and enjoyed excellent field position in the first half, it took a one-yard plunge by quarterback Maks Babuder with three seconds remaining in the half and a subsequent conversion by Chris Dyer to tie the game at 7-7.
As fortunate as the Panthers were in the first half to manage a tie, the Knights were even more fortunate in the second half that they managed to force the game into overtime. The St. Francis offense in the second half was anemic, mustering only 40 total yards, but some untimely penalties by the Panthers and the strong foot of Sam Lishewski allowed the Knights to actually be in position to win the game but for some heroics by the Panthers.
After the teams exchanged field goals in the third period, a 28-yarder by Whitmer’s Zack Madden and a long 42-yarder by Lishewski, the fourth quarter presented the huge and enthusiastic crowd with a dramatic finish.
After scoring a touchdown, St. Francis was in position to take control. At the end of the third quarter the Knights intercepted a Donnie Dottei pass and drove the ball to the Panther three-yard line. But a fumble stalled the drive. The Knight defense, however, came up big and forced Whitmer to punt from their own end zone.
On the return, the Panthers were penalized for an intentional face masking and the resulting 15-yard penalty placed the ball only 13 yards from pay dirt. The Knights covered that ground in five plays to take a 17-10 lead with less than seven minutes to go.
The opportunistic Panthers were not dead. Following a short kickoff, Whitmer enjoyed good field position at its own 42-yard line and the Whitmer veterans took advantage of it.
The big play in the drive was a fourth and nine throw from quarterback Donnie Dottei to wide receiver Beau Norton that resulted in a 15-yard gain.
“The line gave me the time on that fourth-down play and Beau came up a great catch,” Dottei said. “He went down and got it. Unbelievable.,”.
The Panthers used the resulting momentum to cap their game tying score and, with only two minutes remaining, Donnie Dottei scampered into the end zone with a eleven yard TD run. Madden’s conversion tied the game at 17-17.
As everyone in attendance was preparing for overtime, the Panthers had other ideas. On the ensuing kickoff, Whitmer executed what appeared to be a successful on-side kick but the Panthers’ Kevin Koger recovered the ball without allowing the ball to hit the ground first and the officials quickly threw their penalty flags and the Knights were awarded the ball in excellent field position.
“The on-side kick was a coaching error. It was my fault,” Panther head coach Joe Palka said. “The ball must touch the ground before it can be recovered and I failed to instruct my guys properly. I take full responsibility. The officials made the right call.”
St. Francis, however, was unable to take advantage of the situation and the much-aligned Panther defense came up big and the final two minutes of the contest expired with neither team scoring.
In the overtime, the Panthers won the toss and wasted little time in reaching the end zone. On the very first play, senior tailback Julian Nash took the ball and several St. Francis defenders into the end zone after a twenty yard run around left end to give the Panthers the lead.
St. Francis still had a chance to tie the game but the Knight offense completely stalled. In four plays the Knights failed to advance the ball, and when a Babuder fourth down pass was dropped, the Whitmer homecoming party commenced in earnest as the Panthers escaped with a thrilling 24-17 victory.